PERSECUTION AND MARTYRDOM---The New Testament Norm
Christians in the United States and many other countries know very little, if anything, of the persecution and martyrdom experienced by those in the early Church and throughout church history. Regarding persecution, the reason many Christians today are living peaceful lives is not because God's blessing is upon them. Nor is it because Satan has changed his strategy for the Church. God's blessing never has been upon, and Satan never has persecuted a worldly or compromising church. Jesus said to His disciples, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you....The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you..." (Jn. 15:19-20). Why aren't Christians in America being persecuted?
"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21). "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). Why do so many Christians know nothing of persecution? Again, because Satan does not persecute worldly or compromising Christians.
Conditions for Disciples
Very few Christians in America know anything of meeting the three conditions set forth by Jesus in Luke 14. If you do not meet these conditions Jesus said three times you "cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:26-27, 33).
One awful aspect of apostasy is its insidiousness. The enemy has worked so subtly that most of the brethren do not realize what has happened to themselves and their congregation. One thing that has impaired our vision is that the most spiritual and conservative churches look at those who have fallen into greater depths of apostasy and think they themselves are in pretty good shape. And when this comparison is made, the former does indeed look very good. But the challenge should be not to compare ourselves to other churches, but compare ourselves to the standard of God's Word. When we do this, the honest and objective seeker will admit that even the best of Christendom today has much room for improvement. "...They measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (2 Cor. 10:12).
God's people now embrace many of the ways of Babylon. This is more than a matter of the need for separation from the world. The spirit of Laodicea has permeated the Church. We do not realize how much the prevailing apostasy has influenced the thinking and lives of even the most conservative Christians. Jesus reproved the church in Laodicea saying, "...Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17). Those were not worldlings, they were Christians that Jesus rebuked. And the Christians of Ephesus had patience and discerned false apostles and labored for Jesus' name's sake, yet our Lord rebuked them because they had left their first love. He told them to repent and do the first works or else He would remove their candlestick (Rev. 2:2-5).
What Brings Persecution?
Just what is it that brings on persecution? Doing that which always has been the primary work of the Church. That is evangelizing the unsaved and making disciples of the converts so that they can evangelize the unsaved and make disciples of the converts (and taking care of our widows and orphans) until Jesus comes back. Persecution comes when Christians are disciples according to Luke 14, filled with the Holy Ghost, and expose the work of the Devil by proclaiming the truths of Scripture, and refuse to compromise those truths.
We do not need to seek persecution, but if we do God's work His way persecution is inevitable. But many Christians in America believe the highest priority is to have a business or farm and raise a family. Raising a family is important, but that emphasis is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. (It is difficult to make this point without being misunderstood.) It is important to raise godly children and protect them from the pervasive evil influences of this Babylon in which we live. But a biblical faith and things that are eternally significant will much more likely be passed on (in a limited sense) to the next generation if they saw their fathers suffering for doing the main work of the Church rather than building bigger barns and teaching how to make money and have a big bank account.
Our Lord said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Mat. 10:34-38).
Persecution is Normal for Christians
It is normal for the disciple of Christ to be persecuted. It is abnormal if you have been a Christian for very long and have not suffered persecution. Most of the suffering that Christians experience today is not persecution, it is chastisement because they are out of God's will. (Many are in debt up to their ears, playing with the world, laying up treasures on earth, filling their minds with the filth of television, ungodly music, and the cheap output of the press, and many other things.) God chastens His own (Heb. 12:5-11), but chastening is not persecution. And reaping the hard way of the transgressor is not persecution. "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God"(1 Pet. 2:19-20).
This writer has been put in jail and prison for taking a stand with Jesus Christ and for truth and righteousness. Sad to say that much of the persecution he has experienced came not only from unsaved loved ones but from compromising Christian brothers who are gripped by the allurements of this world. The jails would be full of preachers if we took to the streets and instead of singing to sinners and telling them how much Jesus loves them, preached: "Repent of your fornication and adultery and sodomy and covetousness. Quit lusting in your hearts---get rid of your television sets and ungodly music. Repent! Humble yourself before Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness for your sins. Escape the wrath to come!"
(If Spirit-filled prophets and evangelists did this, the problem would be finding qualified, God-sent pastors to shepherd and disciple the converts. There are precious few today who are not entangled in the offerings of this Babylonian system, or cannot control their children, or are otherwise scripturally unqualified. In fact, there are no God-sent pastors, anywhere.)
Of course you would not have to take to the streets to be persecuted for preaching a message like that. You would see that by preaching to "Christians" as they came out of most church buildings about noontime on First Days. No one likes to be persecuted. And we don't need to seek it. It will come, however, if we preached like John the Baptizer, the early Christians, and several others throughout Church history, and applied the truths to our own lives.
God's Grace is Sufficient
God's grace is always sufficient to endure persecution even unto death. There are many accounts of Christians throughout much of Church history who, for example, praised the Lord and otherwise manifested the grace of God while being burned at the stake.
The prophets and other saints of the Old Testament also suffered persecution when sin was exposed in people's lives. Beginning with Abel there is a trail of blood and suffering for righteousness throughout the Old Dispensation. The Book of Hebrews tells about some of those godly saints: they "were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb. 11:35-38). While much of Israel's history reveals a backslidden, apostate people, these particular saints were not.
Satan has not changed. He still works through men and women whose "heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9) to persecute God's people who are zealous for Him and the proclamation of His truths. John the Baptizer thundered out against sin and preached repentance, calling the religious experts of the day a "generation of vipers." His head was chopped off for telling King Herod that it was not lawful for him to be in an incestuous marriage. There would be many headless corpses of preachers in their graves if they preached the way John did.
Many Christians today think that Jesus suffered so that they won't have to. But this is a perverted message of the easy-believism social gospel of today. To preach that message, one must ignore a substantial portion of the New Testament. It is true that Jesus died a spiritual death so that we would not have to, but suffering for righteousness' sake has been the norm for true disciples of Christ beginning with Steven and the Apostles.
According to Church history all the apostles suffered martyrdom except John who was banished to the isle of Patmos. The apostles were thrown into prison time and again during their ministry, and suffered beatings and other persecution Acts 5:40; 16:23; 2 Cor. 11:25; et al.). Steven was stoned to death for preaching to the religious group of his day calling them "stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears" (Acts 7:51). And later James was martyred by the sword (Acts 12:1-2). Paul was in and out of jail, suffered beatings and was incarcerated, under house-arrest, for two years (Acts 28:30) before his martyrdom.
And today any of God's people who are sold-out to Jesus Christ and want to live a godly life, according to the Scriptures "shall suffer persecution." Regarding persecution, some would say that Christians in America are living at peace with the enemy because we are privileged to live in a Christian nation. But this nation was not founded by Christians, and in general, never has been "Christian." (Please see article titled DEMOCRACY---A Scriptural Perspective.)
America is Not a "Christian" Nation
While it is true that many laws have been based on scriptural principles, no one can rightly say that we are a God-honoring nation. Our laws have been changed to meet the demands of a pleasure-loving, covetous, immoral majority. Citizens of this country now have the right to murder their unwanted, unborn children. They have the right to leave their marriage partners and live in an adulterous relationship. Sodomites, instead of being prosecuted for their crime, now have rights given by the governments to obtain parade permits to block traffic and march down the middle of the streets with their banners and placards, flaunting their sin. We now have the "First-Amendment right" to publish the vilest pornographic magazines, send them through the U.S. Mail, and distribute them in countless convenience stores and newsstands throughout the country. The same "rights" are given to the producers of pornographic films and sensual commercial advertisements to broadcast their perversion and filth and Godless humanism into virtually any home on this planet (via satellites and re-broadcasting). And a U.S. Surgeon General who claimed to be a Christian, rather than calling people to repent of their sin of fornication, adultery, and sodomy, used government funds to tell teenagers and adults how to have "safe sex." And instead of continuing to prosecute people for violating liquor laws, the prohibition laws were repealed and strong drink is distilled by the trainload and made available throughout the land. Many thousands of people are slaughtered on the highways and untold numbers of homes are broken up every year. And hardly a business exists today that doesn't have sensual rock music coming over their speakers or `music-on-hold' telephone systems. How can this be a "Christian" nation when we would even make the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah blush?
The salt has lost its savor. Candlesticks have been removed from churches. Holy Ghost anointed preaching has been replaced with programs and plays and fiction and films.
Persecution has come in every generation when Christians preached the truths of God's Word in the power of the Holy Spirit and applied them to their lives, and stood in opposition to the things the world holds dear. "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Lk. 16:15b). When there is a sharp contrast between Christians and the world (not merely conservative dress) there will be persecution and martyrdom. If this is true, and it is, then what does this say about Christians in America for the past few generations?
Jesus Christ is coming back for His saints, including "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27). How can so many Christians believe that our Lord is coming back for His bride in her present condition? God is going to clean us up. And it is going to be by persecution and tribulation like the world has never seen before.
It is not the wrath of God that Christians will directly experience. It will be persecution from ungodly worldlings under the unprecedented influence of demonic spirits, having been drawn away by the lusts of their wicked hearts. A time is coming when it will cost you and your family something to follow Jesus Christ. The apostle John in the Revelation saw not just Jews but "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes....And one of the elders [around the throne] answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of [the] great tribulation [thlipsis]..." (Rev. 7:9, 13-14). The Greek noun thlipsis was also used in Acts 11:19 concerning the persecution of the Church at the time of Stephen's martyrdom and is rendered "persecution."
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Mat. 5:10-12). "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21).